How to Sleigh the Holiday Season: Making Food Gifts Safely

Oh my gosh am I excited to introduce this series to the blog!! I am a Christmas fanatic. I could care less about the whole gift-giving portion of Christmas, but I love the music, the atmosphere, the snow, all the treats, decorating, and crap I forgot to breathe. I pretty much like everything. One of my absolute favorite things to do is make candy as gifts for friends, family, and neighbors. However, I find that I don’t often trust what other’s give me because I find most people don’t know the first thing about kitchen sanitation and cleanliness. I am ServSafe certified and have been involved in the culinary world from a very young age. It has been ingrained in me to practice food safety and I think it is important to make sure the treats I give out are as safe as a home cook/baker/candy maker can make them. Let’s get started!

How to Sleigh the Holiday Season is a new series on the blog for well, the holiday season. Since I am so passionate about it, I decided to do a whole series about making treats for family and friends. This year’s theme for the series will be old-fashioned and traditional candies/treats. So get ready for some delicious and fun recipes! The series will have some very easy recipes for beginners and more advanced recipes for veterans, so I hope you can find something that will make you excited to get in the kitchen!

I wanted to kick the series off with this post because I think that making food for others should be taken with great care. I often find myself very timid to eat food other’s made because I’ve seen how people cook and I just don’t trust it. I certainly don’t want someone to think I was being unsanitary and like to use these tips especially when making food gifts. So, if you want to brush up on your kitchen and food safety or if you just want to see what I have to say, this is a great post to start learning how to prepare food in a safe manner.

This post is geared toward making candies and confections so things like raw meat, seafood, eggs, and other safety tips will not be included since they will not be worked with in this series. However, I do encourage you to look into it if you are interested or unsure.

1. Wear Gloves

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Now I know what you might be thinking, “really, you want me to wear gloves?” YES I DO! Wearing gloves ensures that you are handling candy and treats (the majority of which you do things with your hands) with something that is for sure sanitary. If you’re working with truffles and rolling the ganache center between your hands, you really should be wearing gloves (think about cousin Dan that’s always picking their nose, would you eat their truffles even if they washed their hands? Thought so).

Plus, there are a lot of benefits to wearing gloves. First off, if you are working with something sticky, dyed, or messy, you can just pop your gloves off when they become too dirty and get a new pair. No more wasting time scrubbing something off your hands. So let’s talk about glove etiquette:

  • Always wash and dry hands before putting on gloves. This ensures that if a glove breaks the things you are working on don’t just have to be thrown out immediately because you have clean hands underneath.
  • Wear gloves that fit well, but aren’t too tight. Don’t get gloves that will be baggy because it can make using your hands more difficult with the extra material. Too tight of gloves and they’ll break and be uncomfortable.
  • Don’t double glove. Unless you are looking for heat protection, don’t double glove. This can sometimes cause the gloves to break more readily due to the friction between the two gloves.
  • Learn how to properly put gloves on. This video gives some helpful glove tips and explains how to take off and put on gloves properly.
  • DO NOT touch anything but the food after putting gloves on. If you touch your face, hair, body, phone, recipe book, fridge door, sink handle, cabinet, etc. after putting on a fresh pair of gloves, those gloves are now contaminated. You should put gloves on right before starting work on an item and remove them/change them if you start touching other things.
  • Change your gloves often. They don’t cost that much, and they can easily become contaminated, so change them often when working on tasks and especially when working directly with food.
  • If you hate gloves and don’t want to wear them, you only have to wear them when directly touching food.
  • Gloves help to not leave fingerprints. Think about how gross you would feel if you picked up a Twix bar and it had a fingerprint in it, blehhh.

You can pick up gloves at Walmart, a restaurant supply store, and they are sold online. You should get something unpowdered and either vinyl or nitrile, but make sure it’s food-safe (not all gloves are alike or made to handle food).

2. Know and Practice Food Basics

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If you have never worked in a professional kitchen, you may not know these food basics.

  • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cold foods should only be at room temperature for 2 hours and hot food for 4. After that, the food should immediately be placed in the fridge to cool down to avoid excess bacteria production.
  • If you are working with a food and don’t know if it can be left out, look it up!
  • Keep food packaged and covered when not working with it. Dust, pet hair, and other things are always flying around and can easily get stuck to your delicious treats.

3. Wash Your Hands Properly

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You should wash your hands with soap in warm water for at least 20 seconds while scrubbing all over for a proper clean. Don’t forget to go slightly up your wrist and in between your fingers. The tops of the hands are important too! Dry your hands using a paper towel as it is much more sanitary than a towel, and then turn off the sink using that paper towel. If you turned on the sink with dirty hands, turning it off with clean hands is a bit pointless. Discard the paper towel after use.

If you have long nails, use a nail brush to clean under them before touching food (even if using gloves). There is a ton of bacteria housed under nails.

HAND SANITIZER IS NOT THE SAME AS WASHING HANDS. My mother used to teach cake decorating and the amount people that thought hand sanitizer was the same as washing hands was astonishing. Hand sanitizer is good in a pinch or if you are not near a sink. Hand sanitizer can make your food taste gross and is NOT a replacement for washing hands when dealing with food.

4. Keep a Clean Kitchen

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Make sure the countertops are wiped down with a disinfectant before starting your candy project and wipe up spills and messes immediately to avoid bigger messes or cross contamination. Wash all utensils and surfaces if switching tasks or using again. Clean countertops and food surfaces often to make sure you aren’t cross contaminating anything. Also, switch out washcloths and sponges frequently. They can house a whole horde of bacteria. Sponges should be cleaned or tossed after 30 days of use and washcloths should be changed out daily.

If you are preparing lots of treats, make sure your fridge is clean and ready to accept said treats. I can’t tell you how many times I have made something that needs refrigerated and realized I didn’t have any room. The same goes with treats that will stay out, make sure you have enough room for them when they are cooling/hardening/whatever.

5. Use Lots of Paper Towles

Since paper towels are disposable, I like to rely on them a lot. I can wipe up spills, dry my hands, or clean a countertop with a paper towel and then throw it away without concern of contaminating something else with a washcloth that has been used several times throughout the day.

You should also dry your hands with paper towels as they can be much more sanitary than the towel that hangs from the oven door handle.

6. Keep Cleaning Products and Food Separate at All Times.

Be careful with where you store (or even temporarily place) cleaning products while cooking. When spraying a surface down to clean, make sure all food is out of the way from any overspray that may occur. No one wants chemicals in their food, even if it’s all natural (I bet it still tastes nasty).

7. Kick the Pets Out

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Pet hair can get EVERYWHERE. It’s important to keep pets out of the kitchen to avoid hair floating into your food. You should vacuum half an hour before you want to start making food to ensure the hair has settled. Then wipe off all counters and surface to achieve a mostly pet hair free zone. DO NOT hold or pet an animal while working with food unless you plan on changing clothes, which brings us to our next point.

8. Wear an Apron and Clean Clothes

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Aprons are designed to give you a food safe and clean front on your body. It is important to wear one while cooking and to REMOVE it when you step out of the kitchen. You should NEVER wear it outside the kitchen and especially not in the bathroom.

On top of this, if you have pets it is important to wear clean and hair free clothes. As you make food you’ll be leaning or reaching over bowls and pans to do things. Pet hair can easily come loose from clothes and end up in or on the food.

9. Put Your Hair Up

Pet hair isn’t the only concern. You should keep your hair up if it is past your ears. If it can’t be placed in a hair tie, use bobby pins to secure the hair back and/or throw on a hat. Hats are great hair nets for at home cooking, just make sure it is clean and free of pet hair/dust.

If you have a beard, don’t trim or shave it the day you are planning to make food. It is very easy for little strands to stay stuck in the beard after washing and can become dislodged as you work and get into the food. If you want to be extra safe, wear a beard net.

10. Watch Where You Sneeze and Cough.

If you are prone to winter allergies like I am, it is very important to remain vigilant to the feeling of a sneeze coming on. If you must sneeze (or cough) while working in the kitchen, try to quickly cover your nose AND mouth while turning away from the food and surface the food may sit on. I usually duck beneath the counters and sneeze toward the floor while covering my nose and mouth with the inside of my elbow. Wash your hands and your forearm after sneezing or coughing and change your gloves to be safe.

11. Stay Organized and Clean as You Go

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A messy kitchen makes it easier to contaminate food. If you have nowhere to work or put down utensils you are more likely to accidentally drop something in something else or to be sloppy in general. If you are working in an organized and clean kitchen it will be easier to follow food safety guidelines.

Clean as you go to make sure the kitchen doesn’t become crowded with dirty pots and pans or little pieces of trash. Keeping a clean and organized area makes it much easier to practice food safety.

12. Keep a Trash Spot

When I work in the kitchen, I hate trying to open and close the trash can (plus it doesn’t seem super sanitary to me). So I will keep a grocery bag with the top half turned inside out over the bottom half keeping it open on the counter near my work area. You could also use a grocery bag lined bowl. This allows me to quickly throw things away (keeping it organized) and I only have small bits of trash from things I’m working on (not a germ-ridden trash can I throw everything into).

13. Don’t Eat While You Go

If you are preparing food and want to taste test (or someone else wants a quick taste), make sure you move away from the food while tasting and chewing. Food crumbs and bits can easily fall from your mouth or the food you’re eating into the food you’re making. Once finished eating and if returning to work on the food, wash and dry your hands again and replace your gloves.

14. Don’t Wipe Your Hands Just Anywhere

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If you are wearing gloves and they become soiled, don’t just wipe them off and move onto the next thing. Replace the gloves. If you aren’t wearing gloves and getting things on your hands, don’t just keep wiping them on a towel. Wash your hands or wipe off with a paper towel to prevent cross-contamination.

That’s it! Some super simple rules for preparing food gifts a little safer and a whole lot tastier! This week will have two more courses related directly to sugar work and chocolate. Subscribe so you don’t miss any of this, and I’ll see you all on Thursday!

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**None of the images used in the main post belong to me. They are free to use images from Canva.**

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8 thoughts on “How to Sleigh the Holiday Season: Making Food Gifts Safely

  1. All common sense. But that doesn’t mean that most people have it! I love this post – great tips. I have certainly been given cookies and goodies that I’ve thrown away. You’re so right about the sanitary conditions in people’s kitchens! Ew!


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